MYTHS AND FACTS
There are a number of common myths surrounding computer viruses:
* Any computer error message indicates virus infection. This is false — error messages can also be caused by faulty hardware or software bugs.
* Viruses and Warms Always require user-interaction. False. Code must be executed in order for a virus to infect a computer, but this doesn't require user-interaction. For example, a network worm can infect automatically if certain vulnerabilities exist on a user's computer.
* Email attachments from known senders are safe. Not true, because they might have been infected by a virus and be used to spread the infection. Even if you know the sender, don't open anything you aren't sure about.
* Antivirus programs will stop all threats. While antivirus vendors do their best to stay on top of malware developments, it's important to run a comprehensive Internet security product that includes technologies specifically designed to proactively block threats. Even then, of course, there's no such thing as 100 percent security. So, it's important to adopt an online common sense to reduce your exposure to attack.
* Viruses can inflict physical damage on your computer. What if bad code makes your machine overheat or destroys critical microchips? Antivirus providers have debunked this myth multiple times — damage like this simply isn't possible.
The rise of interconnected devices across the Internet of Things (IoT), meanwhile, raises further interesting possibilities: What if an infected car is run off the road, or an infected "smart" oven is directed to put out maximum heat until it overloads? The future of malware may make this kind of physical damage a reality.
People have a number of misconceptions about malware, such as the assumption that infection is obvious. Often, users assume they'll know if their computer has been compromised. Typically, however, malware doesn't leave a trail to follow, and your system will display no signs of infection.
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Similarly, don't believe that all reputable websites are safe. If hackers can compromise legitimate websites with infected code, users are more likely to download files or give up their personal information; according to SecurityWeek, that's exactly what happened to World Bank. In the same vein, many users believe their personal data — photos, documents and files — aren't worth anything to malware creators. Cybercriminals mine publicly available data, to target individuals or to gather intelligence that helps them create spear-phishing emails to sneak inside organizations.
Common Infection Methods
So how does your computer become infected by computer viruses or malware? There are several common ways. These include clicking on links to malicious sites in email messages or messages in social networks, visiting a compromised website (known as a drive-by download) and inserting an infected USB flash drive in your computer. Operating system and application vulnerabilities make it easy for cybercriminals to install malware on computers. So it's vital that you apply security updates as soon as they become available to reduce your exposure to risk.
Cybercriminals often make use of social engineering to trick you into doing something that jeopardizes your security or the security of the company you work for. Phishing emails are one of the most common methods. You receive an email that looks legitimate and convinces you to download an infected file or visit a malicious website. Here, the goal of hackers is to create something you find convincing, such as a supposed virus warning, notification from your bank or message from an old friend.
Confidential data, such as passwords, are a key target of cybercriminals. As well as using malware to capture passwords as they are typed, cybercriminals also collect passwords from websites and other computers they have been able to hack. That's why it's so important that you use a unique, complex password for each online account. This means 15 characters or more, made up of letters, numbers and special characters. This way, if one account is compromised, cybercriminals don't get access to all your online accounts. Of course, if you use easy-to-guess passwords, cybercriminals may not need to compromise your machine or the website of an online provider. Unfortunately, most users have woefully weak passwords. Instead of using strong, hard-to-guess passwords, they rely on standbys, like "123456" or "Password123," which are easy for attackers to guess. Even security questions may not act as an effective barrier, because many people give the same answer: If the question is "What's your favorite food?" and you're in the United States, "Pizza" is a common answer.
SIGNS YOU'RE INFECTED
While most malware leaves no telltale signs and leaves your computer operating normally, sometimes there can be indications that you might be infected. Reduced performance tops the list — this includes slow-running processes, windows that take longer to load than usual and seemingly random programs running in the background. You may also notice that Internet homepages have been changed in your browser, or that pop-up ads are occurring more frequently than usual. In some cases, malware can also impact more basic computer functions: Windows may not open at all, and you may be unable to connect to the Internet or access higher-level system control functions. If you suspect that your computer might be infected, scan your system immediately. If nothing is found, but you're still in doubt, get a second opinion — run an alternative antivirus scanner.
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